Embracing their label as a bunch of role players, the University at Albany Great Danes are finally turning some heads.
“I think we’re picking up some respect as the year goes on,” said senior center and co-captain Blake Metcalf. “We’re 6-2 now, and we’re confident in our abilities. We’re a team that knows our roles.”
The Great Danes, coming off a 69-56 victory over local rival Siena Saturday night at Times Union Center, hope to continue their early-season success when they host Saint Francis (N.Y.) tonight at 7 at SEFCU Arena.
“We are trying to stay humble and to keep working hard,” said Metcalf. “One thing I don’t have to do at all during practice is to force the guys to compete. This is a team that loves to compete.”
Fifth-year senior Jacob Iati said the Great Danes are not concerned what others think about them.
“I like the kind of players we have on this team,” he said. “We don’t have as much skill as some other teams, but we play hard. One of the great things about this team is that we can win when Mike Black and I aren’t shooting well. That’s what happened the other night against
Siena. Mike and I combined for only five points in the first half, but our other guys stepped up. We don’t have the best individual athletes, but we have a great team. We are definitely a more complete team than we’ve had here in a few years.”
Teamwork has been the theme all season for the Great Danes, and it’s one of the reasons why head coach Will Brown doesn’t have to continually remind his players to keep working hard.
“I’m not worried about these guys’ egos,” he said. “We’ve got some smart guys. All we talk about is continually getting better. You don’t mind losing a game if you are outplayed, but we don’t want to lose because we got outworked.”
Iati explained the Great Danes’ mentality.
“We know we’re a bunch of role players, and we don’t really have a star except for Mike Black,” he said. “We also don’t care what a lot of people think about us. We know what kind of players we are.”
Black, one of the top players in the America East Conference, leads the Great Danes in scoring at 16.9 points per game. He also has a team-high 24 assists.
But even when he’s struggled, the Danes seem to thrive.
Iati, a three-point specialist, produces 14.8 ppg, while 6-foot-6 sophomore Sam Rowley, a former rugby player from Australia, averages 7.1 points and 4.6 rebounds off the bench.
“Sam is our strongest player, and he knows how to pass the ball. He is very versatile,” said Brown.
Other key players include redshirt freshman Peter Hooley (6.1 ppg, 20 assists), who is also from Australia, 6-10 junior center John Puk (5.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg.) and Metcalf (5.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg). Jayson Guerrier (5.5 ppg, 10 three-pointers), another perimeter shooter with three-point range, is the team’s starter at small forward.
“These guys are confident that they can win games if they work hard. We won’t have much room for error, so we have to work hard every night,” said Brown.
Brown, whose team cracked the College Inside Top-25 Mid-Major poll for the first time in program history this week, said the Great Danes won’t take Saint Francis lightly.
“They score a lot of points,” Brown said. “They have four starters back, and they average about 70 points a game. I think they were picked fifth in the Northeast Conference, but that conference has a lot of very good teams this year.”
The 2-3 Terriers feature four double-digit scorers, led by 6-6 sophomore Jalen Cannon, who averages 16.0 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.
Other top shooters include 6-5 sophomore Kevin Douglas (11.8 ppg, 9-for-19 on three-pointers), 6-6 senior Akeem Johnson (11.2 ppg) and 6-2 junior Ben Mockford (10.6 ppg).
After tonight’s game, the Great Danes travel to Colgate Saturday afternoon.